Prescribed Fire

A Brief History

Prescribe fire is a land management tool that can be used for the management of timber, habitat, and foraging and can be defined as the deliberate, planned, and skillful application of fire to a specific site under certain conditions in order to accomplish a specific management objective. Prescribed fire is a cost effective method that can be used to manage plant communities, and the United States has had a long history of natural and human-caused fire, starting with Native Americans. Native Americans used fire to maintain clearings and encourage the growth of certain plants. Today, prescribed fire can be used to control invasive species, remove thick litter layer accumulations that can be hazardous fuel loads for wild fires, stimulate the germination of certain plants such as certain wildflowers and trees with serotinous cones, and release nutrients into the ecosystem making your land more productive.

Forest Health and Vegetation

Prescribed fire can be used to improve vegetative health by helping control or eliminate invasive insects and plants. Returning fire to the landscape can help maintain forest diversity. Historic fire suppression caused species composition to decline rapidly and put wildlife habitat and plant diversity in jeopardy.

Fire and Wildlife Habitat

Prescribed fire can also be used to maintain wildlife habitat. Fire can create or maintain forest openings that are important for some wildlife species that require early successional habitats for portions of their lives. These openings can provide habitat for insects, which in turn creates a food source for birds that feed on those insects. Fire can help encourage fire tolerant species such as oaks and hickories that may be out-competed by more shade tolerant, less fire resistant species, such as maple and beech, if fire is not utilized. Oaks and hickories provide nut mast for wildlife such as deer, turkey, squirrels, and many other species.

Fire and Foraging

Fire can create ideal conditions for fungi, especially morel mushrooms. Fire can cause the fungi to fruit, creating mushrooms and truffles. This may be a result of the decrease in the duff layer, allowing the mushrooms to emerge from the soil, or it could be a result of the increase in nutrients as a result of fire. However, it is not certain why fungi respond positively to prescribed fire.

Shrubs may produce more fruit 2-5 years after a fire than they normally would if the area had not been burned. Blackberries may respond to fire by rapidly increasing in abundance. However, some fruiting shrubs may be top-killed or destroyed as a result of fire.

Fuel Loads

Prescribed fire is important in reducing forest fuels. Dry vegetation, storm damage, and dead leaves on the forest floor provide fuel for wild fires. Over time, these materials accumulate and can create intense and dangerous forest fires. Utilizing periodic prescribed fires will reduce the buildup of fuels, and in the chance that a wild fire does occur, it will be easier to suppress.

Know Before You Burn

Make sure to review the rules and regulations regarding open burning in your area. Review Indiana’s Department of Environmental Management website prior to conducting your burn. There are forms you may need to fill out for approval here.

For an overview of prescribed burning and fire behavior, make sure to check out the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife Prescribed Burning Fact Sheet.

Review these six things before conducting a prescribed burn on your property.